461st plaque

461st Bombardment Group (H)

George Iubelt

My name is George Alvin Iubelt. I was born in May 1924, in Orient, IL, a small coal mining community in Southern Illinois.

I went to grade school at the Orient Grade School and after graduating from grade school went to high school in West Frankfort, IL which at the time was the largest town in Southern Illinois with a population approaching 20,000. I was always involved in sports and was fortunate enough to make the starting 11 in football and the starting 5 in basketball, both in my sophomore years. Even though I was active in both of those sports, my best sport in which I had the most talent was baseball. The high school did not have a baseball team at that time. I could have gone out for track but chose to participate on the American Legion Baseball team instead. We were decent and advanced to the State championship a couple of years, but lost both times. I played either third base or catcher. Catcher was my best position.

My sophomore year I was talked into double dating by my best friend and taking a girl to a school dance. I had never dated prior to that time. The two girls were good friends and I got my parents car to go to the dance. As it turned out, my friend and I sat in the front seat while the two girls sat in the back seat. Not a lot of romance on that first date but that just opened the door for future dates and it ended up with my going with this girl through high school. Her name was B.J. Coleman and even though we had times when we were not dating, when I came home from overseas in 1945 I looked her up and we renewed our dating. At the time I was stationed at Scott Field and fortunately she was attending nurse training at Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, so you can see where I spent all my free time.

After graduating from High School I attended Southern Illinois Normal University for a couple of quarters. Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor my senior year and patriotism was at an all time high so I enlisted in the Air Force Cadet Program. I took my physical and mental exams at Peoria, IL and was sworn into the program on December 13, 1942. After basic training I was sent to Arizona State University for my Pre-Cadet training. I can remember marching down the streets in Tempe and the group singing raunchy songs that at the time was a little off color but today would not raise an eyebrow. After about 6 months at Arizona State we were sent to Santa Ana, CA for preflight training. I thought I was doing pretty well. My instructor began letting me take off but would always have the controls on landing. One day we were all ordered to take some more eye exams and according to the tester, I did not pass one of the eye exams and was given my pink slip. To this day I believe it was just my number that did not pass the exam because I had extremely good eyesight, much better that the 20-20 normal range. Any way, with a broken heart I was sent to Scott Field in Belleville, Illinois for radio school. I had no problems with learning code and being able to copy it and upon graduation was sent to Yuma, Arizona for gunnery school. While at gunnery school it was announced that anyone that had flunked out of the Cadet Program for a physical reason could retake the exam and if passed could reenter the program. I did, and I passed, but I thought to myself that God had me where I was for a reason, and I decided not to reenter the Cadet Program. As it turned out it was the right decision.

After gunnery school I was sent to Tucson, Arizona where I was assigned to a B-17 crew for combat training. I did not like this crew as most of them got sick when we were flying our training missions and felt that they were not the crew I wanted to be on when sent overseas. Fortunately I developed a case of the mumps and was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. When I got out I was asked if I wanted to be reassigned to my original crew or wanted to be assigned to another crew. Without hesitation I said I wanted a new crew. I then was assigned to a B-24 crew with Bob Luebke in the left seat. What a difference. This new crew was a professional group and everyone knew their job and did it well. I must mention them at this time because I have a picture of them in my computer room and I see and think about them every day. Bob Luebke was pilot, Jack “Mac” McCauley was co-pilot, Armand “Red” Bottiglia was navigator, Miles Amos was bombardier, Don Hilgart was engineer, Lee Fitzpatrick was ball turret gunner, Grady Dahlen was top turret gunner, Herb Weber was tail gunner, George Hart was nose gunner, and I was the radio operator. One near miss occurred at Davis Monthan in Tucson, Arizona. Our co-pilot was practicing night landings and take offs. Only the pilot, co-pilot, engineer and I were flying. Earlier that day the base commander had held a briefing and congratulated the crews for the number of accident free days the group had. That evening after we touched down after a number of times, which was going to be our last for that night, the radio was saying “expedite”, “expedite.” The plane landing behind us had lost its hydraulic system and had no brakes. We were just turning off the runway when we were hit broadside by the plane making an emergency landing. I remember standing behind the pilot when we were hit and thinking to be the first person out of our plane I went thru the escape hatch located right above me. When I got out on the wing I said to myself that it was too long of a jump to the ground and by the time I retraced my steps and went out the nose wheel, I was the last person out of our plane. Fortunately there were no serious injuries, but a lot of interrogations that evening and the next day.

After Tucson we were given time off and we all went home for some rest and with orders to report to Topeka, Kansas. I remember my mother going to Topeka with me and every day we went up she did not know whether we were coming back that day or not. We always came back until that one day when we took off and we headed for Bangor, Maine. It was a long flight, 9 hours, and the weather was bad so we were at Bangor for a couple of days. One interesting point here is that when we had one of our reunions in Massachusetts my wife and I took an extended vacation and we went to Bangor and we went to where the air field had been in Bangor. It was now a commercial airfield. There was part of one runway still there and that is all. I went to the Library to see if I could come up with some information on the air force base that had been there and the librarian did not know that one had even existed during the war and had no reference material to it ever having been there. From Bangor to Gandor Lake, Newfoundland, to the Azores, which was an 11 hour flight, to Marrakech, Africa, to Tunis, to Gioia, Italy, a 7 hour flight, where we took a six hour ride in the back of an army truck to Torretta. It was sort of sad to leave our plane in Gioia. We arrived at Torretta on July 18, 1944 and after some flights to acquaint ourselves with the area etc, we flew our first mission on July 25, 1944 to Linz, Austria. Little did we realize that for whatever the reason, the whole German air force was in the air and attacking the 461st. All at once all Hell broke loose. As we were not lead ship that day, I was manning the right waist gun. I remember that tracers seemed to fill the sky. Our nose gunner got one, our tail gunner got two and I got one, a ME-109 as I recall. For whatever the reason our engineer, firing from the left waist did not get a shot off as the enemy was attacking from my side. I remember my gun jamming once and he, the engineer, working to free the jam. I did not realize it but all at once it dawned on me that we were by ourselves and I was seeing planes go down all around us and crews bailing out and parachutes all over the sky. Our pilot was able to jettison our bomb load and catch up with the group in front of us, which in my opinion saved us from being a lone duck with no protection around us and saving ourselves from being shot down. I will never forget the look on the ground crews as they awaited their planes to return but we were the only plane from our squadron to make it back. I corresponded with a Milton Radovsky who was writing a book on the Linz mission. The following is a recollection of one of the ground crew that was told to Milton after we returned from Linz.

“One of the few planes returning from a mission where our losses were extremely high was manned by a green crew. It was their first mission. They fancied themselves as a real hot-shot group (at least, that is the way we perceived them). They all strutted around wearing Philadelphia Phillies baseball caps. They came back from the mission really shook up. They claimed that they had been told fighters would not attack a formation the way they had that day. They never got over it. As I remember it, everyone of the crew had to be rotated to the States before they completed 50 missions.”

We definitely were a cocky crew but we did finish our missions before being rotated home. Unfortunately Milt Radovsky died before writing his book. He was from Silver Springs, Maryland. His son wrote me and said he was going to complete the book his dad had started, but that was the last I ever heard from him. Some time after that mission to Linz we became lead ship in our squadron and I never fired from the waist any more but manned the radio at all times sending back reports on the success of the mission as crew members saw it. My favorite position was standing between the pilot and co-pilot and watching their reactions when we got in the middle of heavy flak or were attacked by fighters. Colonel Glantzberg flew with us on numerous times and had always told me to get the report of the success of the mission from the tail gunner and the ball turret gunner and radio it back to the base, which I did. On the first mission that Colonel Knapp flew with us there was no mention of when to send the report back so I did it as I did with Colonel Glantzberg. On Colonel Knapp’s first flight with us I had already sent the report back when he called me on the intercom and told me what to radio back. He immediately became very angry and told me to meet with him at the briefing room after we landed. I received a tongue lashing of all tongue-lashings and really thought he was going to court marshal me. Finally he told me to never radio anything unless I was told what to send back. I know I shook for a week after his tirade on me. Thank God we were able to complete our missions with my last one being to Treviso in Northern Italy on January 15, 1945.

A note of interest here. We were known as the blue cap crew on base. Herb Weber, our tail gunner had written to Connie Mack, owner of the Philadelphia Athletics and asked for an Athletic baseball cap for all our crew. I had written first to Branch Rickey who was the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals and was refused. I still have a copy of the letter Connie Mack wrote back and said the caps were on their way. This was when we were in training in Tucson. When they came we wore them when we were on base and also overseas until Colonel Glantzberg quickly told us we were not to wear them at any time. After our first mission and we made it back, Colonel Glantzberg met us after we got out of the plane and we all had on our baseball caps. Colonel Glantzberg told us we could wear them on base but not off base. We were elated to be able to wear them from that time on until we left. I was surprised that Colonel Knapp allowed us to wear them but he never said a thing to us. The picture of our crew in the 461st website shows us with our baseball caps on.

Another note of interest. In September of 1944 our crew was given a leave to the Isle of Capri. I can still see the beautiful blue water in the Blue Grotto that was so clear there was no end to its depth that you could see. Admittedly we were a cocky crew and on one trip to the beach we rented kayaks with the idea of being the first ever to kayak around the Isle of Capri. Either stupidity had taken its toll or the Italian Cognac had severely affected our minds. We were told that if we lost one, kayak that is, we would have to pay for it. I am speaking now of only the enlisted men in our crew. I am sure that the officers had not lost their minds as we had done. After a half hour or so I was quite a way out in front and rounded a bend in the island. I kept going but never caught sight of any of the crew following me, but I kept going. Finally I realized that the kayak was riding lower in the water. Finally it was completely submerged. As I looked at the shoreline, all I could see were cliffs that seemed to me to be straight up and down. . Remembering that I would have to pay for the kayak if I lost it, I started swimming toward the cliffs pulling the kayak. I began saying to myself that here I was supposedly at a rest site after flying several missions and I was going to drown in the Tyrrhenian Sea. So I turned loose of the kayak and swam to the cliff where I got out of the water and was standing on a small ledge. I was hoping that a Red Cross boat would show up and rescue me. But none did. Finally the water was up to my knees; then my waist and I thought no way was I going to stay there and drown. I began scaling the cliff and finally got to the top bleeding from head to toe. I was a mess. Young children came to me talking to me but I could not understand them. I was finally able to talk to a man that had a jalopy and pay him to take me down to my hotel. I had learned that I was in an area called “Upper Capri.” When I got back to the hotel, my crewmates were all in the bar and I was hopping mad because they had left me. Their explanation was “We knew you could swim”. Fortunately a Red Cross boat did pick up my kayak and return it so I did not have to pay for it.

Some of our missions were milk runs and some very rough like two straight days to Vienna in which we lost several planes and several young men to flak and fighters. Col. Glantzberg flew with us on at least one of the flights to Vienna because I can remember returning to base some 20 minutes after the rest of the planes had returned. I remember the Col. looking at one of the engines, and seeing a big hole in it, saying, “No wonder the damn thing wouldn’t run.” When I completed my missions, I was sent to Naples to await transportation back to the States. I will never forget the young children selling their wares, or the mom and pop spaghetti houses. Remember the Italian air force wings and the UARTAP signs that were up all over all the towns? Finally my name came up and I boarded the General Meigs and was fortunate in that I was able to get a lower bunk. A company of tough battle fatigued army veterans were on the ship. Things went well the first couple of days out and you had to stand in long lines for meals and the deck was crowded. Then rough weather hit as we zigzagged across the Atlantic. I did not think much about the possibility of German submarines but was thrilled by all the dolphins that were swimming along with us leaping in and out of the water. One day, shortly after sailing, we had no line to stand in for meals, as all the tough guys were in their bunks sick or in the latrine on their knees. After arriving in the States at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, I rode a train from there to Chicago and another train from Chicago to West Frankfort, Illinois. After about a month of R&R at home, I was assigned to teach radio techniques at Scott Field, where I had first gone to radio school. Since the girl that I was still in love with was still in nurses training in St. Louis, this gave me the opportunity to make up for lost time. It wasn’t easy, because we had separated after I had left Scott Field the first time. But we eventually got back together and she became my bride in a wedding at the First Christian Church in West Frankfort in July of 1945. She still had a year to go to finish her nurse training after I was discharged in September of 1945.

After spending a long extended honeymoon at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis, after my discharge in September, 1945, I returned to Southern Illinois and purchased a grocery store in West Frankfort. Bad timing. All rationings were still on and I was called two or three times before the rationing board for selling maybe a can of beans one cent over the limit, and making weekend trips to St. Louis. I finally sold the business and we rented an apartment in St. Louis. When my wife finished nurse training we returned to Southern Illinois and I started back to school in Carbondale on the GI Bill of Rights. I received all of $90 per month but we lived in cheap government housing, and movies were only 5 cents at the local drive in. I received my B.S. in physical education and began a coaching career in Galatia, Illinois, a small school in Southern Illinois. I coached basketball for 2 years in Galatia before accepting a basketball coaching job at a larger school in West Frankfort, IL and was there for 8 years. During my time at Galatia and West Frankfort I went to Summer school at Indiana University and obtained my MS in HPER. Before starting back to school at SIU in 1947 we had our first child, a daughter. While coaching at Galatia we had another child, a son, and while coaching at West Frankfort we had another child, another son. That was enough and I had the doctor get out his sharp knife.

After 10 years in High School I was offered and accepted a position as assistant basketball and football coach at Southern Illinois University. I resigned as assistant football coach after a couple of years to devote full time to basketball. I worked with the men’s program for 18 years and the woman’s program for 8 years.

After retirement we moved from Carbondale and we put in a home on the DuQuoin, IL City Lake and lived there for 10 years from 1994 until 2004. This was an ideal spot for us as we both liked to fish, and we did every day. We had been water dogs for many years prior to moving on the lake as we went from run-about, and skiing, to cruisers, to a houseboat on Crab Orchard Lake near Carbondale. Since our houseboat had all the conveniences of home, we closed up our house in Carbondale and spent the summer on the lake in our houseboat. When the geese started flying we were forced to move home or be prepared to take the wrath of the goose hunters and their shotguns, which were very loaded.

A son that lives here in Paducah purchased a beautiful duplex and insisted that we move here so he could look after us and be available on a moments notice if needed. We are fortunate in that a church of our faith is only a couple of miles from where we live and we are on the outskirts of town with only one house and a pasture of cows across the road from us. My wife was elated a year ago when she watched a calf being born and watched the mother take care of it after birth. While we both miss Southern Illinois, with both of us in our 80’s and not getting any younger, I am 86 and my wife is 85, we are where we should be. We have had to ask our son for help several times since moving here. We are working on learning Southern lingo, but I would say that time will run out for us before we become true Southerners.